Spanish composer and multi-instrumentalist Rafael Pacha is a name that has increasingly cropped up in the TPA reviews section in recent years. As a regular guest member to The Samurai of Prog, along with its various offshoots, notably with Inner Prospekt, TSoP’s Kimmo Pörsti, Marco Bernard, and leading up The Guildmaster, I found myself increasingly drawn to Pacha’s prog/folk tinged contributions. So with the release of this latest solo album an ideal opportunity to investigate further.
The aptly titled A Bunch of Forest Songs is a collection of twelve revisited and reworked instrumental tracks, originally released between 1999 and 2022, plus a previously unreleased piece. The music across the album is rich and colourful and an absolute joy to listen too. Take the cleverly written folk/prog Inma’s Song, played in a familial 7/8 meter with Pacha’s fluid acoustic guitar weaving in between the violin, synths and recorders. And as Kimmo Pörsti’s drums enter the fray I am transported back to Gordon Giltrap’s late ’70s ‘progressive’ albums, or equally and more recently to Neil Campbell’s opening gambit, The Outsider ~ News From Nowhere, in his trilogy of albums released in the late ’10s.
Across the album we are treated to gem after gem. Turning our attention to the edifying album opener, Piper’s Dream, which again sees Pacha’s lyrical acoustic guitar interweaving between whistles and Carlos Aragon’s uilleann pipes. A joyous and uplifting tune… Later the piper’s theme is revisited, with a less sweet, slightly darker sibling, Piper’s Nightmare. Still we have those interconnected winds – Pacha’s whistles combining with Rafael Moreno, on Irish traverse flute and, this time around, Juan Miguel López on uilleann pipes.
On subsequent listening sessions I began to see A Bunch of Forest Songs as a trans-global experience and one where you never quite feel you are fixed in a particular country or culture. The intricate cross-rhythmic arrangement of Balkan Rashness/Pivo U Staklu may well have one foot firmly in south-eastern Europe, whereas Ossian By the Door has the other rooted in the Emerald Isle. Equally, the music has a timelessness essence spanning medieval to contemporary. The Gaelic inspired Bean Sidhe and Dance of Rohan hints at Tolkien mythology, whereas the latter rhythmically swings from the Nordic countries further to the east to South Asia. Despite the inferred timescale and the numerous cultures, the album flows remarkably well – less a bunch of songs, rather a carefully curated anthology. Much I would suspect is down to the lion’s share of tracks selected from two albums; five from Aes Sidhe (2000) and four from Back Home (2014). The tracks also appear to be carefully selected, offering common themes which run through the album and which Pacha has undertaken to give context to in the accompanying booklet.
As with all releases from Finland’s Seacrest Oy label, the overall product is excellent. A Bunch of Forest Songs is housed in a six-panel digipak, with attractive artwork and 16-page booklet.
As mentioned, with the exception of one track, A Bunch of Forest Songs revisits twelve previously recorded works by Rafael Pacha and/or friends. Having backtracked to the original recordings I can say the arrangements remain, in general, faithful, whilst benefitting from remastering. The most significant change is Kimmo Pörsti who has added drums and percussion throughout. I enjoyed the originals, but equally the new versions which, to my mind, now have a more ‘proggy’ feel. An opportune moment then to mention the new track, Le Mujer Del Músico (The Musician’s Wife), although it’s not new as such, just never recorded. For this, Rafael and Kimmo called in fellow Inner Prospekt and Guildmaster keys man Alessandro Di Benedetti who supplies the lush strings and deft piano. The music simply ebbs, flows and embraces across its nigh on eight minute duration. Quite stunning really…
Time for me to continue my journey through Rafael Pacha’s back catalogue. With seventeen albums to choose from I could be busy for a while. My first port of call was to revisit 2020’s Al Rincón por Soñar – very different indeed!
A final thought, and something I clicked on whilst reviewing The Samurai of Prog’s The Spaghetti Epic 4. On his contribution to the album, Snakebite, Pacha went that extra mile, seeking out just the right instruments to give the track a truly authentic sound. It is evident that the same meticulous effort has gone into the tracks here.
A Bunch of Forest Songs must surely appeal to those who enjoy their progressive rock with an equal measure of acoustic folk. Top drawer progressive-folk!
01. Piper’s Dream (4:51)
02. Akelarre (4:49)
03. Imma’s Song (4:52)
04. Ossian By the Door (4:38)
05. Balkan Rashness/Pivo U Staklu (3:51)
06. Bean Sidhe (6:05)
07. Dance of Rohan (4:07)
08. Artanola (3:03)
09. Le Mujer Del Músico (The Musician’s Wife) (7:50)
10. Kenningar (Swordwater) (4:39)
11. Piper’s Nightmare (5:46)
12. Stormchaser (4:16)
13. Broceliande (4:38)
Total Time – 63:25
Rafael Pacha – Acoustic, Classical & Electric Guitars, Bass, Mandolin, Bouzouki, Cura Saz, Bağlama, Psaltery, Tablas, Bodhran, Riq, Violin, Viola Da Gamba, Recorders, Whistles, Keyboards
Kimmo Pörsti – Drums & Percussions
Carlos Aragon – Uilleann Pipes (track 1)
Marco Bernard – Bass (track 2)
Juan Miguel López – Low Whistle (track 5), Highland Pipes (track 11)
Juan Arriola – Violin (track 8)
Alessandro Di Benedetti – Piano, Electric Piano, Keyboards (track 9)
José Manuel Milan – Violin (track 10)
Rafael Moreno – Irish Traverse Flute (track 10)
Record Label: Seacrest Oy
Country of Origin: Spain
Date of Release: 10th March 2023